Archive for the 'Injuries' Category

16
Sep
10

Always look on the bright side of life

Anderson found scouse humour somewhat strange

Anderson found scouse humour somewhat strange

It’s been a somewhat disappointing start to the season for Manchester United, with last-minute goals conceded, a season-ending injury to a star player and former big issue sellers –rather than German superstars -joining the club.  

However while missing out on Mesut Ozil, and being a few minutes away from a perfect league start is annoying it is far from the end of the season- unfortunately the same can’t be said for Antonio Valencia.  No amount of optimism or sugar-coating will hide the fact that the Ecuadorian’s injury is a massive blow to United as he was one of the shining stars in last-season’s campaign.

I’ve still not been able to bring myself to watch it on television- I was sat near enough when it happened to see all I want to of that horrific injury and the reaction of the Ranger’s players said it all.

My main concern with Valencia is not whether we see him this season but that he’s able to re-capture the form he showed last season and this isn’t a Neil Webb –ask your dad- type injury that robs him of a lot of talent.

The feeling around United following the non-event that was a goalless draw against far inferior opposition is that the start to the season has been something of a letdown with needless points dropped, Wayne Rooney making the news for all the wrong reasons, not to mention the –still- ongoing saga of United’s number four.  Some fans –including me- are beginning to resemble the cast of Eastenders, looking ready to burst into fits of rage or just sink into a mood of melancholy at the drop of any more points.

While Owen  Hargreaves is looking about as likely to play for United again as Carlos Tevez, the squad at Old Trafford still has enough quality to challenge for major honours- at least in theory.

The names Rafael Van Der Vaart, Tom Cleverley and Ozil have been spoken about more in the past few days by many United fans and while any of those three would be useful to the squad there’s still a wealth of talent available.

Anderson and  Michael Carrick have yet to really figure this season and both players know that this could be their last season at Old Trafford if they don’t step up their game. While I’ve been critical of both players in the past, I still think they’ve got enough talent to play a big part and hopefully they will.

When it comes to the points United have dropped- and believe me I was as frustrated as anyone at the final whistle of both away games- it’s still not as bad as it may seem.

Chelsea of course have gotten off to a flier but considering their form at the back end of last season and the fixtures they faced can anyone have expected anything less?  

The likes of Wigan, WBA, Stoke and West Ham are the sort of games Carlo Ancelotti would probably have chosen as his first four of the season if he had the choice. Now I’m not getting into any conspiracy theory here that Chelsea have deliberately been given an easy ride but let’s face facts no one can really have expected the Champions to drop points against those teams.

United’s two away fixtures have been  more difficult than any games Chelsea have had so far this season and while the manner of the draws is frustrating there’s still a chance that Ancelotti’s men may return from both grounds with less than maximum points.

It must also be remembered that from the corresponding fixtures last season, United took no points whatsoever, so it’s not all doom and gloom just yet.

While the draw with Rangers was without a doubt one of the most boring 90 minutes I’ve witnessed since England took on the titans from Algeria it’s still need to be put into perspective. Yes, Sir  Alex Ferguson should not have changed ten of his players from the previous game and yes that is the sort of match where the term ‘banker’ could not be more apt- unless applied to someone who works in a bank of course- but you’d still expect United to top their group.

Going to places like Valencia, Glasgow and anywhere in Turkey is never easy for teams but they’re hardly the cream of Europe and quite frankly if Fergie’s men can’t get a result from those games then the Champion’s League is beyond them anyway.  I fully expect Fergie to realise the limits of which players he can and cannot leave out- he’s already admitted as much about Dimitar Berbatov – and play a much stronger side in the remaining games.

When it comes to Rooney- although his performance against Rangers was subdued- he’s shown enough in the game against West Ham and for England that he’s putting his World Cup and subsequent  ladies of the night debacle behind him and getting back –slowly- to being the striker we all know he is.

Fortunately for Wazza unlike last season, this time round he actually has a world-class partner who’s playing like he is actually world –class so it’s not all up to him to provide United’s goals.  Berbatov’s start to the season- while far from perfect has been a massive improvement on last term and he’s looking sharp.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, United lost the title last season not due to defensive frailties but simply because of an over-reliance on Rooney- Chelsea had Frank Lampard to lighten Didier Drogba’s goal load- who did United have?- other than possibly ‘own goals.’

If Berbatov can hit 20 goals this season then United stand a good chance of seeing the title return to the ‘Theatre of Dreams.’

The main worry defensively is the recent penchant for conceding late goals, what united need is a world-class defender with bags of experience who can help steady the ship, oh erm hang on. The return of Rio Ferdinand is exactly what’s needed and if he can stay fit then the one really worrying factor of United’s play this season could be resolved.

Even the Valencia injury may not be season-ending with recent reports indicating he could play a part at the back end of the season.  There’s also Gabriel Obertan to return who may well rise to the challenge of filling one of last season’s members of the PFA team of the year’s boots. Obertan has show signs in the reserves that he’s the real deal- now’s his chance to prove it.  

The point I’m making is that while it’s not been the start many United fans were hoping for, it’s far from the disaster certain people- including those in the press who love to see United fail- would have us believe.

What United could really do with is a home game against an arch-rival who are really struggling, to get the mood and confidence buzzing around Old Trafford again. If only we had a game like that coming up……………

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13
Sep
10

five things we learnt from United’s draw with Everton

"your exit points are here and here"

"your exit points are here and here"

Manchester United’s defeat, sorry draw against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday was tagged as a shining example of the drama of the Premiership by some in the media. For many United fans however it merely underlined certain frailties that haven’t been addressed since the Fulham game and left a bad taste in the mouth.

While following that disappointing result at Craven Cottage- from a United point of view, there were still some positives to be taken, it’s a little harder to keep your chin up when your side gives away a two-goal lead in stoppage time. It was so painful that I couldn’t put myself through it again on MOTD , me and a mate actually debating whether to watch a sky + recording of X-factor his missus had taped when we got home from the pub. Eventually though it was time for some honest reflection and while it still makes me feel slightly sick, it’s not time to buy a City shirt and sell my soul to the devil just yet.

There are several lessons to be learned from Saturdays game and none of them involve Wayne Rooney- that’ll be the last time he gets mentioned in this article I assure you. Evra’s human and men approaching middle age get tired are among two of the things we learned from Saturdays game at Goodison.

1. Kill or be killed. While three goals is usually enough to see United beat even the strongest of attacking sides, there can be no denying that there was ample chance to put the game well and truly to bed before the final two minutes. Both Dimitar Berbatov and Nani- it’s him again- could have, well should have, done better with chances they had when the game was at 3-1.

What’s particularly frustrating about it was that both players are capable of doing much better than they did with their final opportunities and it was a case of being far too lackadaisical and treating the game as though it was won. There’s no real excuse for not making sure. Berbatov has been on fine form of late and its seems harsh to apportion any of the blame for United’s failure to win at his door. It still grates though that what should have been a simple goal for Ryan Giggs or Nani had the Bulgarian squared the ball, ended with a rather timid shot that went wide. Nani’s decision making also again was called into question, as he also wasted a good chance at the end when he had better options.

2. Patrice Evra is human. It’s been a long, long time -in a galaxy far far away- that I can recall saying the words ‘Evra had a ‘mare’ but unfortunately on Saturday he did. Not since his debut against City can I remember my favourite United player looking so out of sorts. It was a strange sight to witness and not one I want to see again, but United’s left back gave the sort of performance that you’d associate with John O’Shea on a very bad day. It was totally out of character and hopefully not something we’ll see again soon. Why was Evra so bad? Well he’s had his fair share of bad press since the World Cup plus his appeal against his five match French ban was recently turned down so that may have affected him. Perhaps Fergie should have rested him for an extra week following the World Cup and he is actually suffering from a bit of fatigue. Either way United need all their top players performing to the best of their ability with some more tough games coming up. On Saturday Evra showed that he’s not infallible, let’s just hope it was a minor blip rather than any real problem the Frenchman is suffering from.

3. Rio’s return can‘t come quick enough. The name on almost every United fans lips at full time, was not Wayne..sorry I almost forgot, was not any missing striker, it was that of Mr Ferdinand, who’s return now seems to be more vital than ever.

 The freedom with which Cahill managed to score Everton’s second was slightly worrying, the fact that Mikel Arteta had enough time to make a brew before he banged in the equaliser was shocking. A few people pointed the finger at Jonny Evans for either -or both- goals and while I think it was a team -lack of- effort that contributed to them rather than one individual there’s no doubt that Rio’s return would help sort the defence out no end. The question is will Ferdinand be-in true Take That style- back for good? After all a man who last season was behind Ledley King in Premier League appearances can hardly be counted on to play the majority of games.

 In the past I’ve actually advocated giving Evans a chance even if Rio’s fit just because the Irish defender stays fit and would benefit from a stable run in the side. However, even I have to admit that it would be foolish not to put a fit Ferdinand back in the side. His organisational skills or ‘silks’ as he calls them on twitter, were sorely missed at Goodison. While were on the subject of changing the defence, is it not time to forget about playing Gary Neville in difficult games?

That may sound harsh but I for the life of me can’t work out why Wes Brown has become a reserve team regular recently and also why he no longer seems a viable option at right back? People will say Rafael is too inexperienced but how is he going to gain big game experience if he doesn’t play in the big games. Like Evans It wasn’t Neville’s fault for the goals but is he really the best man for the job at right back? I think not.

4. We‘ve got a squad so we need to use it. Having three outfield players over 34 playing a full 90 minutes was a bit of a strange decision by Sir Alex Ferguson to say the least. Both Neville and Scholes looked a bit dead on their feet towards the end of the match, and had either or both been replaced then things may have been different. Neville gave the ball away for their third while Scholes failed to pick up Arteta, yet can we be surprised? Neville’s hardly had any match practice while Scholes has been ever-present this season. I can understand why Fergie took off Evra for Park, but I don’t see what harm it would have done to introduce Rafael or Darron Gibson- or both -for Scholes and Neville. Then there was Nani who seemed to disappear towards the end, leaving poor old Gary Neville totally exposed down the right hand side. Why Fergie was reluctant to change it, when there were obviously tired legs out there baffles me slightly.

5. Teams aren’t giving up anymore. In the past even away from home it’s not been unusual for certain teams to simply accept that they’ve lost the game when United are leading with only a couple of minutes left. I’m not claiming that teams cannot be bothered, just that some opposing players allow their heads to drop slightly in the closing minutes as they succumb to the idea that the game is now lost.

 However, this is no longer the case. As Fulham showed two weeks ago and now Everton have proven, teams are not going to roll over and die against United anymore. If United are to wrestle the title from Chelsea’s grasp- and for the record I’m not buying into the idea that it’s practically impossible after only four games and no defeats- then they’re going to have to prepare for battle. A result against United is still the premier scalp for many players, and the air of invincibility that Fergie’s men had a couple of seasons ago has long gone.

Teams are willing to fight to the death- not literally , unless its Wolves if the press is to be believed- so it’s time for United to roll up their sleeves and get ready for 94-minute slogs. Last season many a United fan -myself included-laughed at the ‘noisy neighbours’ penchant for conceding late goals- well if their not careful that particular affliction could become one associated with the Red half of Manchester.

12
Aug
10

Ten Things United Must Do To Win Back ‘Our Trophy’

Will we be seeing scenes like this at OT come May?

Will we be seeing scenes like this at OT come May?

With last season’s title race going right down to the wire with Chelsea edging it over Manchester United by a single point every game counted towards the title. This summer has seen a distinct lack of major transfer activity from either club with Chelsea having something if a mini-exodus and bringing in only Yossi Banayoun, while United have made two additions, in Chris Smalling and a certain diminutive Mexican who’s already grabbed a few headlines with the most bizarre Wembley goal since Emile Heskey’s last one. The question is are the new signings enough to bring the trophy back to Old Trafford, just what do United need to do to wrestle the title back from West London and is Dimitar Berbatov ever going to revert back to his headband? Here’s a list of ten things which need to happen for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to overtake Liverpool in the title winning stakes.

1. More goals from midfield. While many a United fan is quick to point out the deficiencies of Berbatov and even Ferguson has lamented the injury to Michael Owen that robbed United of his services for the business end of the season, the fact remains the midfield did not score nearly enough goals last season. Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Antonio Valencia, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nani managed 24 league goals between them, the same amount that Frank Lampard scored. While certain players –Fletcher for example- are not in the side to score goals, while Giggs and Scholes can hardly be expected to hit double figures at their age- it is still obvious United need more goals coming from the midfield department. If Rooney continues to operate as a lone striker –as he did for much of last season- then someone behind him needs to step up. Personally I’d like to see Nani and Valencia weighing in with a few more this time round.

2. A bit more stability in the starting XI. I fully understand that with United chasing honours on four fronts, the need for a large squad and a bit of rotation but surely it’s time for a little moderation. It seems every week there’s a new right back, its 4-5-1 then it’s 4-4-2, Berbatov starts, grabs a goal, then is dropped for the next game, Anderson’s in, then he’s out again, ditto Ji Sung Park. Admittedly injuries and the ages of certain players have to dictate Fergie’s thinking and the days of the man on the street naming the Saturday’s starting XI are long gone. However it could be time to give some players more than just one game in every three, and try and get a bit more cohesion going between certain ones. I’ve said it before and it may sound crazy but unless Rio Ferdinand can get back to proper full fitness, I’d make Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic my starting centre backs for every game. Stability has often been the key to United’s success and maybe a bit more is needed.

3. Give youth a chance. With Tom Cleverly not going out on loan, and the Da Silva twins and Macheda getting a chance both at the end of last season and in this pre-season then could we now see a few youngsters starting more than just the Carling Cup games? Hopefully yes. If United are not going to buy Mesut Ozil- to be honest I don’t think they will- then why not give either Darron Gibson or Cleverly the chance to have a run in the side. After all despite what a certain Scottish pundit may have claimed you can win things with kids. United have bags of experience in every department so throwing one or two youngsters into the mix shouldn’t lead to disaster and what better way for a developing player to learn than to play alongside the likes of Scholes, Giggs or Rooney.

4. Darren Fletcher to raise his game. At first this may seem blasphemous, after all ‘super Daz’ was one of United’s best performers last season, putting in the sort of barnstorming displays you’d associate with Roy Keane. However the reason I think he should raise his game is simple- because he can. While there’s no denying against the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, Fletcher bosses the midfield so much he even had Arsene Wenger complaining of his ‘anti-football’- so basically tackling people then- but against lesser opposition Fletcher can occasionally be a little less influential. I know it seems harsh to criticise such a dedicated player but let’s be brutally honest, there are times when his passing can go awry a little too often, and despite what I said earlier about him not being in the side to score goals that doesn’t mean he can’t. His brace against City and his superb volley – or should that be superlative strike- in the home game against Everton show that Fletcher knows where the goal is. I know he’s quality I just feel that if he were to perform against the likes of Sunderland as he does against the top teams, he could well be the difference between second and first.

5. Michael Carrick. This one doesn’t need a Fletcher-type apology or explanation, it’s shockingly simple. He’s got to start performing consistently. Carrick’s been at Old Trafford for four seasons now yet amazingly the jury still seems to be out on him. Three title winning campaigns would be enough to put most players in the pantheon of club legends but Carrick has a knack for going missing when he’s needed most and sometimes making costly errors. The games against Wolves away and Liverpool and Bayern Munich at home were cases in point. While Carrick’s mistakes in the first two may have been academic his failure to deal with the danger in the Champion’s League, then getting caught dilly-dallying on the ball, cost United two goals, and to some critics the tie. While I think there was more to it than just Carrick, the fact that he was dropped from the United side after his similar blunder gifted Liverpool an early Old Trafford lead, may mean that Fergie is running out of patience with a player who should now be hitting his peak not going backwards. If he doesn’t perform well at the beginning of the campaign, I feel it’s time to give someone else a chance.

6. Beat their title rivals. Ok this may sound like the sort of obvious statement you would associate with David Pleat but it’s true. The past two seasons have seen United lose home and away to their nearest rivals. In 2008-09 they got away with it mainly due the fact that by the time Liverpool came to Old Trafford and won 4-1, the title race was all but over. Last season however, even a draw in either game against Chelsea would have been enough to see United win the title for a record breaking nineteenth time but it wasn’t to be. United have usually performed well against their title rivals and there’s no doubt that a man has proud as Ferguson will be looking to regain that tradition this season. Winning against your rivals doesn’t just give you a points advantage it can often help psychologically convince you that you’re the better team and it’s time United took the edge on both counts.

7. Believe the hype and give Chicharito a proper run. I’ve tried not to get over excited about Javier Hernandez, but it’s been about as difficult as liking Ashley Cole as the ‘Little Pea’ shone in both the World Cup and United’s pre-season. Whether he’s banging in screamers against Argentina or using his teeth in the Community Shield, it’s obvious that he’s class and rather than wrapping him up in cotton wool or saving him for special occasions like the nice china, Fergie should unleash him and let him stake a claim for a regular starting place. He’s been compared to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, which is a bit unfair, but if he is going to be another ‘baby-faced assassin’ then he should at the very least be an obligatory substitute coming on after 60 minutes in every game.

8. Improve the atmosphere at Old Trafford. Whether United have money or not chanting and singing is still free- mind you give it time and they’ll probably charge us- so there’s no excuses for having a lack of noise at Old Trafford. United still have the highest attendance in the League, yet at times away fans of a mere few thousand are out-singing 70-odd thousand Reds. ‘We want Glazers out’ is one chant that seems to be heard without any problems but it’s hardly likely to motivate the team. While I’m not saying that shouldn’t be sung, I’m merely stating that the fact remains personally I’ve been a bit embarrassed by the lack of atmosphere at OT at times and think a bit more noise wouldn’t go amiss. United may have only dropped eight home points last season, but if they can get the sort of atmosphere you hear against City going every week, then there’s every reason to feel they won’t drop any. This isn’t something the club should be culpable for, it’s up to the fans and don’t worry I’ve brought plenty of vuvuzelas back from South Africa so message me and I’ll send you one.

9. Take the burden off Wayne Rooney. Sounds simple doesn’t it? It’s a bit like saying score more goals than the opposition or win more games than your nearest rivals, but the fact is, United cannot win the title with Rooney alone. When Cristiano Ronaldo was scoring goals like they were going out of fashion, a large part of that was down to Rooney. Last season Didier Drogba had Lampard to help him out, Arsenal will no doubt have Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas this time round. Rooney needs someone to weigh in with not just their fair share of goals but also assists and being another option that players look for when United are attacking. Berbatov, Hernandez or one of the midfield, it doesn’t matter but when Rooney’s fit and playing it shouldn’t mean that if he has a quiet game so do United. When Rooney’s out, it’s time for someone else to perform; no doubt all eyes will be on Berbatov who came up short against Chelsea and Blackburn last season. Whether or not this will be the Bulgarian’s season remains to be seen, but someone needs to give ‘r Wazza a hand.

10. Play Edwin Van Der Sar in every league game. VDS performance in the Community Shield was yet another in a long list of exemplary shifts between the sticks at Old Trafford. The Dutchman was injured for the beginning of last season and Ben Foster was preferred to Tomas Kuszczak and all but ended both his United and England career with a series of inept displays. A loss away to Burnley and a disappointing home draw to Sunderland came on Foster’s watch, while Kuszczak oversaw the home loss to Aston Villa and the away loss to Fulham- although to be fair the entire defence was injured for that one. Van Der Sar may be 40 but if he can manage the league games and Fergie rests him for the cup ones, he may just be the difference between another near-miss or making United the most successful ever team-at least domestically- in England.

22
Jul
10

can United really afford to lose Vidic?

Will Vidic be joing Ronnie at the Bernabeu ?

Will Vidic be joing Ronnie at the Bernabeu ?

Sir Alex Ferguson’s insistence on not signing any players this summer will have been met with a collective groan from many Manchester United fans. However the United manager’s refusal to clarify that Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic will be at staying at Old Trafford will be met with more than just a groan, maybe even a scream or two.

With both Real Madrid and Barcelona reported to be interested in Vidic, Ferguson when asked about the transfer speculation gave the rather inconclusive answer: “I can’t clarify it at all.” Hardly the emphatic denial United fans want to hear.

Vidic had been a rock for United since signing for the club in 2006 from Spartak Moscow for the bargain fee of £7 million, striking up one of the best defensive partnerships in Europe with Rio Ferdinand.

Over the past two seasons with Ferdinand experiencing various injury problems, Vidic has managed to strike up a partnership with Jonny Evans, particularly last season, which saw United concede less goals than any other team in the Premiership.

There are two major worrying factors when it comes to Vidic leaving Old Trafford- at least from a United point of view. Firstly with Rio Ferdinand’s injury problems- he started a mere 12 league games last season- United now face the prospect of Jonny Evans and either Wes Brown or the untried Chris Smalling as the new defensive partnership. While I’m a big admirer of Brown, the fact is he has also had his fair share of injuries and his most successful season for United was at right-back.

As for Smalling, asking a player who’s only made a handful of Premier league appearances to come straight into the United team, is a bit much and may well lead to disaster.

The second worrying element is this recent trend of United losing the crux of their 2008 double winning team. This was a side which looked as though it could go on to challenge for major honours for at least the next three or four years, without needing much changing. However since that wonderful night in Moscow, United have seen, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez leave, Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves, suffer injury crisis’s and now it looks as though Vidic may be departing. Not to mention the fact that elder statesmen Edwin Van Der Sar, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, can’t be expected to carry on for much more than another season or that the jury is still out for Anderson and Michael Carrick seems to have regressed.

Fergie is well known for rebuilding United sides, but at the age of 68 can he really build a fifth great team, following the classes of ’93, ’96, ’99 & ’08?

There is another element to this saga as well which is the attitude of the immensely popular Vidic. The words “He comes from Serbia, he’ll f*cking murder ya!” are sung regularly at Old Trafford and with good reason- not because they’re true of course I’m quite sure Vidic has never committed a homicide- probably. No, Vidic is popular because he’s a real get-stuck-in type defender reminiscent of Steve Bruce back in his heyday, he might not be the quickest but what he lacks in pace he makes up for in his reading of the game and his fearlessness in the tackle.

Vidic has grown as a player at Old Trafford and it hasn’t always been a smooth progression. Against Liverpool and Barcelona two seasons ago he made costly errors in the two most important games.

While the loss to Liverpool turned out to be academic- although as someone who attended that game it is still my worst memory of a visit to Old Trafford, allowing Samuel Eto’o in to score in the Champions League final all but ended the game as a contest. While there’s little doubt in my mind United were never going to win that game, as Ryan Giggs rightly stated they just: “simply didn’t turn up” Vidic’s mistake no doubt opened the door for the Catalonians.

United and Fergie though stuck by Vidic, there was no real criticism for him coming from old Trafford, although many a so-called expert on Sky Sports or Match of the Day were quick to question his big-game temperament. Three successive sending offs against Liverpool only helped to pour petrol on that particular fire.

The point is though United and Ferguson have stuck by Vidic when others were questioning him, yet it seems the player has no such qualms about throwing the loyalty shown to him back in Fergie’s face. Every player of course has the right to move on, especially when they have helped their club to a host of major honours, but what is so disappointing about the whole Vidic saga is some of the reasons being bandied about for him wanting to leave. The most ubiquitous one is the idea that Vidic’s wife is unhappy in Manchester. Well call me a narrow-minded Mancunian but surely Manchester is at least as good as Serbia if not a tiny bit better. This reminds me of the time Paul Ince departed Old Trafford supposedly because his wife wanted to move to Milan- it amazes me how tough players can be so hen-pecked. Surely if Vidic was happy at Old Trafford he could convince the Mrs there’ll be plenty of time to live in Spain once his contract finishes. Speaking of his contract another rumour is that Vidic is unhappy that United have stalled with making him a new offer. If this is the case then I for one hope Fergie rectifies the situation and offers the Serbian a new deal, as losing him may be the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to United trying to regain ‘our trophy.’

Of course Vidic is under contract until 2012 and United could always take a leaf out of Arsenal’s book and simply refuse to sell him, although as Fergie has shown in the past, once a player wants to leave Old Trafford, it doesn’t take long before they’re gone.

18
Jul
10

Time for Fergie to get tough with injury-prone trio?

Can Hargreaves really be relied upon anymore?

Can Hargreaves really be relied upon anymore?

Owen Hargreaves’ latest injury set-back will have come as little surprise to many of the Old Trafford faithful. While there’s no denying the midfielder’s abitilty and the fact that when he’s fit, United look a much stronger team, after two seasons of inactivity, questions about his capacity to return to action only increase. Hargreaves has endured the sort of injury problems that must be every footballers worst nightmare. With severe tendonitis in both knees, Hargreaves underwent an operation which supposedly meant he’d miss pretty much all of the 2008/09 campaign. Yet more than one season on there still seems to be no real end in sight for his injury lay-off with him now expected to miss the start of the upcoming season.

Sir Alex Ferguson has at times seemed to lose a little patience with Hargreaves, claiming in the latter part of last season that the reason the midfielder wasn’t ready for first-team action was due to lack of confidence rather than physical ailments. Then there were reports at the end of the season that Hargreaves had stormed out of training after Ferguson had told him he would not be figuring in the final game against Stoke City- thereby scuppering any slight chance he had of making the England World Cup squad.

Hargreaves wasn’t the only English- sort of- United player who wouldn’t need to worry about the deafening noise of vuvuzelas this summer. Perennial injury victim Michael Owen, lost any slight chance he had of making the plane, when he limped out of the Carling Cup final. I for one was against the signing of Owen as I felt he wouldn’t last the season and his signing would prevent United pursuing a much needed striker. I have to confess following his derby day last-minute winner, I did change my mind slightly, but the doubts remained. Owen, like Hargreaves, when fully fit is world-class, of that there can be little doubt. His hat-trick away at Wolfsburg showed that he can still perform at the top level, however it wasn’t long before the injury demons reared their ugly head and he was back on the treatment table.

Owen’s injury problems have been well documented for years now and no doubt helped contribute to the lack of interest in him when he was a free agent- causing the brochure debacle. Fergie obviously thought the striker still had a lot to offer and at one point looked like being proven right. Now though it seems Owen may find it even harder to get back in to the United side with Rooney, Berbatov not to mention Javier Hernandez plus Kiko Macheda, Mame Diuof and Danny Welbeck all fighting for positions. The question is will Fergie give Owen another chance- a real chance not just Carling Cup and seemingly easy Champion’s League games- to get into the starting XI?

One player who’s place in the starting side is pretty much guaranteed- as long as he’s fit of course- is the part-time England Captain, Merker, Film Producer, Website Entrepeneur, Rio Ferdinand. I’m a big fan of Rio’s, but the startling reality is the former Leeds man hasn’t looked fully fit for almost two years now. Coming back from numerous injuries United’s sometime captain often looks a little out of sorts, whether its pace or concentration wise. Ferdinand like Owen and Hargreaves, is a truly world-class player when he’s fit, but like his two occasional England- and United for that matter- colleagues, he’s rarely fully fit. Last season he started less games than Ledley King and then there was the whole coming back from injury only to get banned in his first game back for elbowing Craig Fagan episode.

The problem with Ferdinand is whenever he’s fit he comes back into the side more often than not for one or two games then is out again. This leaves Jonny Evans in and out of the team struggling to get the consistent run he both needs and deserves.

The point I’m making about all three players is when is it time to admit defeat and move on? All three are around the 30 year mark, Ferdinand and Owen being the wrong side of it. With youngsters coming through or available in each of their positions, is it time for Fergie to give other players a chance and call time on the trio’s Old Trafford careers?

This may sound harsh on all three, after all Hargreaves and Ferdinand were instrumental in helping United win the double in 2008, while Owen has only been given one season to prove himself.

However, keeping changing the defence does nothing for stablility and isn’t going to help Evans develop a relationship with Vidic or gain the consistent run he needs. Players like Hernandez and Macheda are the future and should surely be given a crack of the whip sooner rather than later as it will probably only be as Rooney’s understudy anyway, so pushing them further down the pecking order to accomodate Owen seems slightly short-sighted.

As for Hargreaves, while theres no denying the jury is still out on Anderson and Michael Carrick has actually gone backwards recently, can United afford to consider the Canadian-born midfielder a viable option? Is it not time to admit that he may never regain full fitness, or be the player he was two seasons ago and start looking at other options?

While many United fans may disagree, after all who can forget what all three players have done for the team at certain times, with Chelsea looking strong, Arsenal keeping hold of Cesc Fabregas and Manchester City buying most of Europe, is it now time for United to start looking forwards, however hard that may seem.

13
May
10

Would an injury-free season have ended differently?

Dirty German title costing b..........

As the dust settles on what some commentators have labelled ‘the most exciting premier league season in recent memory’ but what turned out to have an all too familiar feel to it, the time for excuses, explanations and blaming can begin.

Gianfranco Zola has already fallen victim to the season’s post-mortem and few would be surprised if there wasn’t a few more managers joining him in the dole queue very soon- or at least at the airport, eh Rafa?

One of the first things many fans –unless they support Chelsea- will point to when explaining why the season hasn’t been an unmitigated success is the old favourite ‘injuries’. If it wasn’t for injuries England would have won the world cup a record-breaking 12 times by now, injuries also stopped United completing a hat-trick of trebles during the noughties, prevented David Beckham becoming Sir David this summer and cost David Cameron the majority he needed. Probably.

There’s an old saying in football about bad decisions even-ing themselves out over the course of a season and while anyone outside the top four will probably agree that’s a load of old tosh, can the same be said for injuries? Obviously not.

The real question is if the top 3 teams in the premier league had been injury-free all season, would the title have ended up anywhere other than Stamford Bridge?

Well let’s look at them one by one.

First up must surely be Arsenal- simply because I’ve decided to do this alphabetically. The loss of Robin Van Persie for five months was a huge blow to the Gunners and one which in a perverse way, may have actually relieved some of the pressure on Arsene Wenger. Many Gooners will cite RVP’s injury as one of the main reasons Arsenal never quite mounted the title challenge they threatened to do at certain stages this season. Losses to Chelsea –twice- Man U- twice- Wigan, Man City, Blackburn, Sunderland and Tottenham meant that Arsenal finished 11 points behind the champions. Yet how many of those losses, can be attributed to the injury to RVP? Well Manchester’s City and United both beat Arsenal with the Dutch forward in the team, earlier on, as did Blackburn and Wigan at the back end of the season. Was Van Persie the difference between the title going from West London to North?

I’d argue not, after all Arsenal’s problem has been more than just scoring goals, in fact that’s arguably been the least of their worries. A lightweight midfield far too often out-muscled or ‘anti-footballed’ as certain Frenchmen may say seems to be a much more prominent reason for the Gunner’s shortcomings.

Of course, Arsenal have had more than just the loss of RVP to contend with, Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas and Aaron Ramsey have all missed key parts of the season.

While Ramsey’s loss was particularly bad, more for the manner of his injury than for the void he left in the team, Walcott when he has played has been inconsistent to put it mildly. As for Fabregas, by the time his injury came about, you could argue Arsenal were already practically out of the title race anyway.

The next on the list is Chelsea, even though they won the league, in the purposes of fairness the question must still be applied to them, after all winning it by a point against one of the most beatable United side’s in recent years is hardly totally convincing.

The most prominent loss for Chelsea was Michael Essien who has been missing for much of the season. While Jon Obi Mikkel has come in and done a fine job, there can be little argument that he’s not a patch on Ghana’s finest. Then there’s also the loss of Ashley Cole for most of the business end of the season, which would affect any team in all honestly.

Cole is one of the best left-backs in the country and his importance in the Chelsea team cannot be underestimated. There’s also the loss of Jose Boswinga of course, but the form of Branislav Ivanovic has not only negated that argument but in all probability made Boswinga’s loss actually Chelsea’s gain. Had Essien and Cole been fit then maybe Chelsea would not have been beaten by Tottenham, but as last season proved and the season before in the Carling Cup, Spurs are capable of giving any Chelsea side a run for their money.

There’s also the losses against Everton and Man City but they were more down to defensive lapses by John Terry coupled with some ‘hilarious’ goalkeeping thrown in the game against City. Let’s not forget as well that Aston Villa were able to defeat a full-strength Chelsea team early on in the season. The loss of Essien probably did cost Chelsea points somewhere along the line as he’s that good a player.

All this of course is moot as Chelsea didn’t need any more points the other teams did, so the real question is could Manchester United have caught them without the loss of certain personnel?

Well United have at times this season, been awful regardless of whoever’s been playing. The main defeat that many United fans will look to as an example of where injuries took their toll was the loss to Fulham. United were missing seven, yes seven, defenders which even Roy Hodgson admitted was a major factor for Fulham’s emphatic win.

However while a three-man defensive unit consisting of Ritchie De Laet, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher is hardly awe-inspiring, let’s not forget that last season Fulham were able to beat a full strength United side- albeit after Paul Scholes was dismissed and it’s not inconceivable that it could have been achieved this time round.

Losses to Burnley, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Liverpool came when United had practically full strength teams, the only missing men were Edwin Van Der Sar and every physio’s favourite Owen Hargreaves.

The loss of VDS early in the season may well have contributed to some lost points, particularly in the home draw against Sunderland, but to blame any losses on his absence is probably unfair.

As for Hargreaves, while Darren Fletcher and to a lesser extent Michael Carrick have made his loss, less felt there’s no denying that a fully fit Hargreaves is better than either player, just look at a 2007-08 DVD if you need any proof. The question is would his fitness have given United the extra 2 points they needed to lift the title? Most definitely. But then again a fully fit Michael Essien would have no doubt elevated Chelsea’s points tally above 86. On a final United note, the most important injury of the season was surely Wayne Rooney’s prior to the home game against Chelsea, had Wazza been fit would the outcome have been different? Who knows, you would think so but to be fair United have been that inconsistent this season it’s not as certain as many would believe.

You could analyse games one-by-one all day long there’s not just the losses to contend with but also the draws, not just the injuries but also the decisions.

The fact is even Spurs could claim that without the lengthy injuries to Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon, not to mention Ledley King’s erratic appearances, they would have been able to mount a title challenge. While we can debate the ‘what ifs’ all day long nothing’s going to change the fact that Chelsea are the title holders……unfortunately.

10
May
10

United’s near-miss shouldn’t hide the truth.

Hopefully those ribbons won't be on for too long.

Finishing runners-up in the league, getting knocked-out in the early stages of the FA Cup and a quarter-final Champion’s League exit hardly a good season makes at the ‘Theatre of Dreams.’ A Carling Cup win, while pleasing, is not really the sort of accomplishment United fans will be shouting at Liverpool fans come next season- although City fans now that’s another story.

It’s safe to that a season which saw seven league defeats, everyone’s least favourite Yorkshire men coming to Old Trafford and dumping United out of the FA Cup, plus losing twice to Chelsea, will not be a DVD release-type of year looked back upon decades from now with the same reverence as 1998-9 or 2007-08.
The loss of Ronaldo and a certain Argentinean got the season off to a somewhat sombre start which wasn’t helped by an early loss away to relegation certainties Burnley.

United’s season never really got going- at least not in the league, in the past the most successful team in Premier League history have remained just that by stringing together awe-inspiring winning runs- usually when other teams have faltered. It’s not been uncommon for United to put together an 8 or 9 match-winning run or maybe a record-breaking run of clean sheets.

This season United’s best winning run in the league was five matches, which while hardly pathetic is not the sort of dominant cavalier charge that has put would-be title challengers in their place in seasons past.

It isn’t really United’s lack of a long winning run which prevented the Premier League title remaining at Old Trafford for a record-breaking fourth consecutive season- and more importantly to many fans 19th title win in total. Losing twice to your nearest title rivals is not necessarily a recipe for disaster, after all last season Rafa Benitez’s men did the double over United yet still failed to prise the trophy from Sir Alex Ferguson’s grasp, but the two losses to Chelsea this season more or less sealed the titles fate.

While it is deeply disappointing to come so close to the title- and making history to boot- there is a need for some sober reflection on how the defending champions never quite put forward true title winning credentials.

Losing to Everton, Fulham, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Burnley not to mention twice to Chelsea is the sort of statistic unheard of at United and while many excuses can be found for each loss- injuries, poor decisions, missed penalties etc, there’s no denying it’s not good enough.

Which brings me on to my point, had United won the league, it would only have papered over some of the cracks which need addressing.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article on these very pages urging Fergie not to panic and try and replace half the first-team as some more over-exuberant observers had been advocating.

While I still stick by the idea that United are only one or two players away from being the best team in the land there are certain factors which cannot be ignored.
First on the agenda and this may go down like a BNP joke at a Bar Mitzvah but I’m going to state it anyway, the atmosphere at Old Trafford at times this season has been shocking. Getting out-sung by around one-fifteenth of the supporters in the ground is a bit of a joke and no matter how much I’d like to pretend the Old Trafford faithful are the loudest in the land, it simply doesn’t ring true. Too many times this season opposition fans have been the far too audible while many United supporters have been far too quiet. I’m not going to get into the whole prawn-sandwich debate but from the times I’ve visited Old Trafford this season, I’ve often left disappointed with the atmosphere rather than the result.

Secondly there’s Rio Ferdinand. I honestly feel I don’t need to explain this but for anyone visiting from another planet or Chadderton, allow me to elucidate. 24 league starts in 2008-09 was something of a disappointment softened only by the emergence of Jonny Evans as a true first-class defender. This season half that number of starts is practically useless, as soon as Rio comes back into the team, he’s out again, which does nothing for stability not to mention confidence. United need Rio fit and playing regularly and if that’s not possible then they need to sign a top defender who can play week in week out. Chris Smalling is not the answer, at least not in the near-future. If United do not sign a top defender- after all they’re hardly easy to come by then maybe Fergie should give Evans a real chance and make him a regular starter- regardless of whether Rio’s fit or not. This may sound crazy after all Ferdinand is still one of the best defenders in the world, but it may give the defence much-needed stability. It could also see Evans grow in confidence and become the player he’s shown signs of over the past two seasons.

Thirdly Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen- for the purposes of brevity I’ve lumbered them both together. Neither can be truly relied upon to perform for United at the highest level, Owen is far too injury prone while Berbatov is far too p*ss poor prone. If United are to have any form of striking plan-b then, a new striker must be top of the agenda. Kiko Macheda has the potential to become a world-beater but next season may be a bit to soon for every United fan’s favourite Italian.

Finally there’s the attacking central midfielder that’s been missing at Old Trafford ever since Paul Scholes stopped being the force he once was. To be fair to Scholes in the past few games he’s been United’s best player but he cannot be relied upon to do it week in week out and has not been the goal-scorer he was for about 4 seasons now.
Antonio Valencia and Nani look more than up to the task on the wings, and there’s the prospect of Gabriel Obertan carrying some of the form he’s shown for the reserves for the first-team next season. Let’s not forget Ryan Giggs and Ji-Sung Park of course, who can still do a job albeit not regularly- at least not in Giggs’s case.

These factors may have been brushed under the carpet had Steven Gerrard not bet half his wages on a Chelsea title win- I’m joking of course, although mainly to avoid libel. United really didn’t deserve to win the title, as I told my very few scouse friends last season ‘the table doesn’t lie.’ For United to regain the premier league crown it’s going to take more than Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez.